Kotagala, February 8 (DailyFT/Harmony Page): Here is the story of Inar Ramalingam Gandhi, a 72-year-old farmer in the tea plantation village of Kotagala in the Central Province of Sri Lanka, as told in his own words:
“I am named after Mahatma Gandhi. My father, who hailed from India and arrived in Sri Lanka to work in the tea plantations with his father, gave me this name.
I am a farmer and have lived my entire life in this country. I am a proud Sri Lankan. I consider this country a blessed land. I mostly grew up in the Daytron tea estate and still live in a small house here.
I have walked all the way from Hatton to Kotagala 65 years ago because I could not afford the bus fare of 10 cents. Today I cultivate four plots of my own land totalling to nearly three acres.
I employ 12 workers. I pay them Rs. 1,500 a day and provide their breakfast, lunch and tea. If they are sick I attend to their medical needs, as much as possible. I do all this not because any government or somebody tells me. I do it because I have lived the difficulty of these human beings who now work for me.
I know hunger. Whether I have money for myself or not I treat my workers the way I would like to be treated, because my heart tells me it is the right thing to do. But I always have enough, though we farmers have seen and are seeing tough times.
The ruining of mother earth by human beings is affecting us farmers. When it rains now, it is a deluge and our crops perish. When this happens we lose money by the millions.
It is in 1966 that my father started cultivating diverse kinds of flowers and few food crops on 40 perches that he had obtained. It was the Sirimavo Bandaranaike regime era and self-sufficiency was encouraged. I was at the time working in a hotel in Colombo. In 1972 I took seriously to farming – we obtained more land and grew every kind of vegetable that grows in these areas.
To-date I plant many varieties of vegetables that will feed the people of this country; chillies, capsicum, brinjal, cabbage…. I also sell vegetable and root plants so that people can grow their own food. I advise them how to grow these varieties, not to use weedicide or pesticide indiscriminately and how to make compost.
For the people who live in line rooms growing even 10 kinds of vegetables even in pots or smallest areas of land around their houses, can mean great change – from malnutrition to nutrition. In the early years of my cultivation, we used to carry our vegetables to the town markets. Now the vendors come from all over the country to us. For us farmers, there are no petty divisions among human beings; no racism or communalism. We till the earth that belongs to all. We feed all, irrespective of their caste, race or religion. We are of the soil. The earth is our sacred benefactor. Water is becoming the greatest scarcity for us. We use the water coming from the mountains. We also have a ground well. But when rains keep away the water dries up. Water is sacred to us farmers. We use water like mother’s milk.
My children are teachers and into agriculture as well as engineering mechanics and diverse other technologies. They are creatively setting up initiatives that can help others. I have allocated some land for them to start their own entrepreneurship ventures. We recently bought a locally manufactured brick-making machine. We are now also making bricks. We bought the machine with our hard-earned money. I don’t believe in taking things free. Why should anyone give anything free to us? Why should we take free things?
A human being is born for the purpose of surmounting his own circumstances, however tough those may be, so that he can help others surmount their difficulties.
A human being or nation should not beg.Whether an individual or a country we should give respect to ourselves. The respect we should give ourselves or our country comes with striving, hard work and discipline. This country is a blessed country. Look at the natural resources we have! We have the seas right around, the mountain, the waterfalls, fertile land. This should be one of the richest countries! How come this country has become a poor country that needs money from other countries?
I get up at 3 a.m. I am at my fields by 4 a.m. If there is excess money I tend better to the humans and the sacred soil of this earth that I work with. I will then give humans some extra money and spend more on labour days to make natural compost and feed the soil extra.
We are minimising as much as we can the use of artificial fertiliser and pesticide. We want to learn more on this. Human beings are part of God’s machinery. We are not sent to this earth to feed people poison or make money through terrible means.
I have suffered inordinately because of the jealousy of human beings. Jealousy is a plague. Those deserving never get a place. Those who are forthright and honest have to suffer. But the righteous will finally win. The whole universal power is watching over the righteous.”